Tuesday, 5 February 2013

Review: Alys, Always

Alys, Always
Harriet Lane

Ok guys, prepare for a moan and a half about this book. I've definitely got my critical head on here and I found this novel MOST dissatisfying. No joke, I actually turned to my bestie when I finished and said 'I do not feel satisfied by this book', as we were both in our bikinis, lying on sun loungers, just chilling, with a rum and coke in hand (I promise it was after midday).

Anyway, on to the matter in hand, Alys, Always. I'm just putting it out there before I get down to the nitty gritty, but I did not like/enjoy this book (a little aside here: I've literally just had a really deep thought that I will get to in a minute so, you know, get prepared and all). I think I can respect this book but I really think something is lacking, like there is a gaping hole in the story. Mostly I think it is far too easy. It is really hard to explain without giving spoilers away but can anyone who has read the book agree with me? That the ending is just too neat, too happy and too unlikely? I would be really interested to see how others have taken it because, for me, it is entirely implausible. In any event I am generally struggling to get my thoughts together at all about this book.

I'm wandering away from the point. Right a quick summary: Alys, Always is a short novel written through the eyes of Frances Thorpe, a journalist working in the books section of a newspaper. She is quite uninspiring, dull and a bit of a loner until she witnesses a car accident one day and happens to be with the driver (Alys) when she dies, hearing her last words. Alys's family ask to meet Frances and from there on she begins to worm her way in to the family with interesting results.

Don't get me wrong, I think the premise of the novel is very interesting. I just have a problem with characterisation and plot progression. Frances is a disgusting (too strong?) person, horribly ambitious and manipulative to the point I'm not sure she's even human. But that probably is too strong, I'm sure there are people somewhere in the world like her. The rest of the characters are really quite flat, I didn't get any sense of personality or dimension. It is tricky though because as it is written in first person, it's very hard to see anything other than what the narrator sees. Even though I don't think the book actually ever got going and I somehow don't understand why 'thriller' has been thrown around so much in relation to it, I cannot deny that it is mighty unsettling. Just check this bit of freakish manipulation: 'Smilingly, I stand back, my eyes lowered, and I wait for their eventual gratitude.'

Here comes the deep thought: what actually makes a book good? Does the writing have to be top notch as well as the story be interesting? Can you have one but not the other? Can you think a book is good but hate every single character? Or do you need to empathise with characters? Can you appreciate a book for its literary skill but not actually have enjoyed it at all? Is it enough that a book can make you react? My head is fuzzy thinking about this stuff. Deep thoughts give me headaches.

Alys, Always certainly has provoked a reaction from me and raised quite a few questions about the difference between enjoying and appreciating a book. I don't think I can say I did either but I do respect the novel for causing such a reaction. I wouldn't recommend it, I don't think, unless of course you want to see what I'm making a massive fuss about. Is there anyone who has read and enjoyed this book that can point out what I missed? Maybe hit me round the head with it to make me see sense?

Sorry for getting all deep on you. And moaning. A lot. I promise I'll be cheerier for my next review!


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